Crit­i­cism of con­sul­tant’s work in Bal­ti­more County is far from base­less

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

Since it was my tes­ti­mony be­fore the Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil dur­ing a June 25 work ses­sion that prompted coun­cil de­lib­er­a­tion about the pro­posed Sage Pol­icy Group con­tract, please al­low me to com­ment fur­ther (“Quirk: Crit­i­cisms of County Coun­cil’s han­dling of eco­nomic con­sul­tant con­tract are base­less,” Aug. 7).

Anir­ban Basu, chair­man and CEOof Sage Pol­icy Group, has served as chair­man of the Bal­ti­more County Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil since 2002 and has pro­vided eco­nomic anal­y­sis and personal in­come fore­cast­ing ser­vices for the county’s spend­ing af­ford­abil­ity com­mit­tee since 2010. That’s a long time.

No doubt his on­go­ing work with these two groups has been very much ap­pre­ci­ated. But in the run up to the May coun­cil vote on rev­enue en­hance­ments pro­posed by new County Ex­ec­u­tive John Ol­szewski Jr., in three sep­a­rate Cen­ter Mary­land Face­book videos against the pro­pos­als, I be­lieve Mr. Basu crossed the line from in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tant to lob­by­ist for the de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity.

It’s one thing to man­age po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est when you pro­vide eco­nomic anal­y­sis for en­ergy sup­pli­ers, law firms, and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, as well as for As­so­ci­ated Builders and Con­trac­tors, the Con­struc­tion Financial Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, Mary­land Re­al­tors, and Mar­cum Con­struc­tion In­dus­try Group, as is the case with Mr. Basu and Sage Pol­icy Group.

How­ever, by act­ing as a pub­lic ad­vo­cate against the county’s best ef­forts to achieve fis­cal sus­tain­abil­ity as he did, Mr. Basu him­self un­der­mined the ap­pear­ance of ob­jec­tiv­ity that is nec­es­sary for cred­i­bil­ity.

I be­lieved it was fair to ask the coun­cil mem­bers if Mr. Basu — hav­ing been eco­nomic ad­viser to the coun­cil all these years of de­clin­ing fis­cal sus­tain­abil­ity; his con­sult­ing com­pany hav­ing re­ceived hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools con­tracts (with many county res­i­dents finding the Sage Pol­icy Group school en­roll­ment pro­jec­tions flawed and con­trib­u­tory to se­ri­ously over­crowded schools); and Sage Pol­icy Group hav­ing many clients whose in­ter­ests may not al­ways align with the county’s — why wouldn’t the county seek a new out­side ad­viser for in­de­pen­dent eco­nomic anal­y­sis?

It is a mat­ter of per­cep­tion, of hon­est and open pub­lic pro­cure­ment and of en­sur­ing in­de­pen­dence. The goal is to pro­vide the Bal­ti­more County Coun­cil the best in­de­pen­dent in­for­ma­tion upon which to make de­ci­sions that have far-reach­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions af­fect­ing county res­i­dents for years to come.

Peta N. Richkus, Tow­son

The writer is for­mer Mary­land sec­re­tary of Gen­eral Ser­vices and a for­mer com­mis­sioner with the Port of Bal­ti­more, Mary­land Port Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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